Sara Heitlinger

The Talking Quilt

with ActiveArt

Interactive textiles quilt, 2011


Part of the national research stream, Connected Communities, The Talking Quilt is an interactive installation that was created by community arts organisation, ActiveArt, in collaboration with Spitalfields City Farm, interactive artist, Maria Varela and myself.

The Talking Quilt is a collaboratively-made traditional textiles quilt chosen for its role as a domestic object, its ordinariness, and its capacity for collective meaning-making. Audiences wear a special glove that allows playback of oral history interviews with the staff, volunteers and visitors of the farm as they record their thoughts and memories around food and community.

The Talking Quilt was created by staff, volunteers and visitors at Spitalfields City Farm in east London, in a series of arts workshops conducted by ActiveArt that explored food and community, and how they relate.  This Talking Quilt includes conversations, interviews and art-making produced by the very diverse communities and people who use the farm.  

As part of my PhD in Media and Art Technology, I helped support the interactive elements of the Talking Quilt by developing 2 interfaces for the quilt. The first uses an RFID-enabled glove which audiences can use to scan the quilt to trigger playback of the oral history interviews. The second interface embeds conductive fabric and digital technology in the quilt and allows audiences to touch the quilt to hear the voices.

My research explored how new technology can augment everyday, domestic objects, bring them to life and create an enjoyable and reflective engagement without changing their qualities as visual, tactile and hand-made artifacts. It also looked at how socially meaningful themes integral to the quilt – i.e. food, food growing and community – could be communicated through the interaction.

The Talking Quilt from Saralara on Vimeo.